I’ve always heard that clean eating is about consuming food in as close to its natural form as possible. Nothing processed, no chemicals or additives.
So eating an apple would be better than, say, eating a bowl of applesauce.
But what if you made applesauce the way my mother-in-law used to – grating apples and cooking them? Maybe adding some cinnamon.
Does that still count as clean food? Or is the apple better for you because it’s raw?
Every morning I have a bowl of Cheerios with a banana and low-fat milk. And I always wonder, “Are Cheerios clean food?”
There isn’t much to them. The ingredient list is pretty short. But there is sugar, and apparently, sugar is not considered clean. (That is a whole other post all by itself!)
In addition, according to Healthline, the oats used to make Cheerios are processed; another no-no when it comes to clean food.
So apparently there are better (cleaner) alternatives to my Cheerios, like a bowl of oatmeal. Still, I think I could make far worse choices than a bowl of plain Cheerios, so I’m OK with it for now.
In order for your food to be considered “clean”, it needs to be in a form as close to natural as possible.
That kind of eliminates meat, don’t you think?
Or does it?
Let’s look at fish; specifically a fish you caught in a clean body of water.
You catch it, clean it, and cook it in some olive oil. That sounds like a clean food to me.
My parents were both raised on farms. When I was a kid, we would visit my Uncle Willie (mom’s brother) and while we were there, we would “get” some chickens.
That is, Uncle Willie would cut their heads off, my mom and Aunt Rosie would pluck them and clean them, and then they would be put into plastic bags for the ride home in our cooler.
Kind of like the fish. No processing there.
But most of us don’t get our meat that way. We buy it at the grocery store. Is that processed?
From what I can tell, cuts of meat, especially organic, are considered clean. Bacon and lunch meats (in general) are not, because they have additives to them. Sausages kind of fall into that category as well.
But what about the hams my grandfather used to smoke himself? They sound like they would be clean.
See? I find this all very confusing once you really get into it. (You should know – I always have a lot of questions – which is a good thing here. Not so much if you’re watching TV with me.)
What about your Thanksgiving turkey? Many have added ingredients, so you need to check. Some aren’t even gluten-free! That boggles my mind. Why are there wheat products in a raw turkey?
Cheeses and Yogurt
Let’s talk about some dairy products.
Cheese: processed or not?
Cheese starts out as some type of milk; so does yogurt. From there, each goes through a certain process to turn it into the final product.
So does that “process” mean it’s processed and therefore not clean eating?
Here are the general rules when it comes to cheese and yogurt (and by extension, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and sour cream):
- First, American cheese is not considered cheese. It is a “processed cheese product” and therefore not clean eating. It often has added oils, as well, so it’s not so healthy for you either.
- Cheese that you buy in a block that does not have added flavors is considered clean. My opinion is that if the flavoring added is something simple, such as basil, it is still OK. Note that shredded cheese has additives to prevent the cheese from sticking together and may not be clean. It’s often more expensive and not as tasty, either.
- Similarly, plain yogurt with no additives is clean. The problem is most of us don’t eat plain yogurt; we buy it with fruit or honey. That often means added sugar, so that’s a no. If you buy plain and add your own fresh fruit, you’re good.
- Things like cottage cheese and sour cream are fine as long as they are full fat and have no added ingredients. I think salt would be OK, although I assume sodium content plays into the clean eating philosophy. Reduced-fat products often have additives in order to reduce calories but still make the product resemble the original as much as possible. By the way, I haven’t been to Weight Watchers in a really long time, but they used to call these products “science experiments” and we were told to avoid them.
- Coffee creamers. Do you even have to ask? Unless it’s real dairy, unsweetened and unflavored, forget it! If you’re one of those people who like a little coffee with their flavored “creamer”, try reading the ingredients. Yuck!
A saying that I’ve been seeing during my research is, “if it comes in a bag or a box, forget it”. Meaning that it’s processed.
But the truth is, you have a lot of choices when it comes to bagged and boxed food.
There are plenty of cereals in the cereal aisle that meets the standards of “clean”. Again, the organic ones are a good place to begin looking. Also check ones with simple ingredients, like unflavored Shredded Wheat.
Raisins and nuts are also pretty good bets. Natural peanut butter too, as long as it really is natural.
Rice in its natural form is OK. The quick cooking kind is not. And brown or wild rice is preferable to white.
There are a lot of varieties of pasta available now, especially in the gluten-free section. (I have Celiac disease, so you’ll be hearing about gluten-free from me now and then.)
Once again, look at the ingredients. Brown rice pasta is a good choice, and Banza (made from chickpeas) isn’t bad either. Plus Banza is super healthy for you. I find brown rice pasta tasty all by itself, but for me, Banza is better with a sauce of some kind.
Most bread doesn’t make the cut as being clean. But, check the freezer section, especially the Ezekiel bread.
Canned tuna in water should be OK.
Check the labels of any canned fruits or vegetables. Fruits may have added sugars and vegetables added salt or other flavorings. Pasta sauces can be tricky. You may be better off making your own.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a no-brainer, right? Absolutely. Almost.
One of the tips when starting a clean food diet is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store – produce, meat, dairy – without venturing into the aisles of processed foods.
Anything fresh and in its natural form is good, although you should be aware of the “Dirty Dozen” and buy organic when you can.
The “Dirty Dozen” are fruits and vegetables that need heavy use of pesticides in order to grow. We’re talking at a farming level that’s selling to major suppliers. You can find out more in my free booklet, “5 Easy Ways to Start Eating Clean“. Just sign up below. It’s past the comments.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are a little different.
In general, they are more nutritious than canned, but may contain added ingredients.
Fruits may have added sugar; vegetables may be seasoned (which might be OK) or come in a sauce (which is not OK).
Simple is a word I’ve been using a lot lately, in all areas of my life.
Simpler is so much easier:
- A room with less stuff in it. And less stuff to clean.
- My wardrobe. (I’m working on that one. And less shoes, too, and purses, and well…that one might not work.)
- And just life in general. I know with the crazy year we’ve all had, our lives can look pretty chaotic. I’d like just a little less, please.
What’s the point of all this?
To simplify this article down to something that’s manageable, because I gave you a lot to think about and look for when you’re trying to start eating clean.
Think about starting your day with two eggs, perfectly cooked in butter. Maybe a side of crunchy toast and some fresh-squeezed orange juice.
For dinner, a piece of grilled chicken and the most colorful salad you’ve ever seen. Lots of texture and flavor and herbs, with just a touch of lemon juice and olive oil.
Simple and delicious.
So, when you make your first trip to the store, plan your first meals, just remember: simple.
And by the way, simple doesn’t need to be perfect. You’ll make mistakes and that’s OK.
If you eat one clean meal out of all the meals you eat next week, you’re already ahead.
You can do this.0